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The Independent Online
THE last time Manchester United reached consecutive FA Cup finals, goalkeepers almost always wore green and to do so in the English First Division was to be acknowledged as a master of the position. For 12 seasons, in 535 games, United's last line of defence was Alex Stepney.

"There were about 10 or a dozen keepers in the First Division in my time who could have walked into any national team in the world," Stepney says. "I don't think the standard today is bad but, compared with other countries, we've stood still in the goalkeeping art. That's why there are so many foreign keepers here."

Stepney was a Wembley loser in 1976 but a winner 12 months later, adding the FA Cup to the championship and European Cup medals he received in the 1960s. He has been invited to play in a veteran's match against Everton before this Saturday's final. "I'm not too bad physically but I'm 15 stone now, so I'd better start training."

Born in Mitcham, originally with Millwall and then, briefly, Chelsea, he left Old Trafford in 1979, played for Dallas and returned to run a pub in Stockport. Nowadays, aged 53, he divides his time between managing a van hire company in Rochdale on behalf of his second wife's uncle and scouting during the evenings and at weekends for Southampton.

"I'm pretty busy. I get up at 6.30 each morning and if I go to a game it might be midnight before I'm home. But I love to be involved with the game. Alan Ball and I go back a long way, to the World Cup in 1970."

Jon Culley